AOC, Bernie And Other Progressive All-Stars Will Advise Biden On Key Policy Issues

Biden and Sanders joined forces on climate change, health care, criminal justice reform and more to make the case for Democratic Party unity.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stand together during a campaign event on February 10, 2020 in Durham, New Hampshire. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stand together during a campaign event on February 10, 2020 in Durham, New Hampshire. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, in a joint announcement Wednesday, outlined the areas of policy they will focus on in the coming months in order to build unity among Democratic Party voters and shore up support for Biden ahead of November.

Described as “unity task forces,” the six committees include progressive all-stars like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Varshini Prakash, the 27-year-old executive director of the Sunrise Movement, the leading organization focused on climate change among young people. All three were proud surrogates of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and many Sanders supporters hope their inclusion on the task forces means that the Biden campaign is taking concerns about his candidacy from progressives seriously.

The six committees focus on climate change, health care, education, criminal justice reform, immigration and the economy, and have eight members each. Each group appears to be a mix of Biden and Sanders advisers, and they'll work together to make policy recommendations for the Biden campaign as well as the Democratic Party's official 2020 platform, which is usually hammered out at the Democratic National Convention. The climate change task force is co-chaired by AOC and Biden surrogate John Kerry, the former Secretary of State from the Obama administration who launched a bipartisan coalition to fight climate change last year.

Rep. Jayapal, one of the co-sponsors for Medicare for All in the House, is co-chair of the health care committee along with former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who served under President Obama and briefly under President Trump. 

Health care is another issue where Biden and Sanders had notable policy differences, with the former vice president focusing on promoting a public option in addition to private health insurance. The Vermont senator built his campaign around championing Medicare for All.

While Biden has yet to embrace that as part of his official campaign platform, he has said he supports expanding Medicare coverage by lowering the age of eligibility and has embraced other policy proposals from Sanders as well as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), like her bankruptcy reform plan which includes student debt relief. 

Other notable members of the task forces announced Wednesday include Obama’s former Attorney General, Eric Holder, on the criminal justice reform committee, and Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX), one of the first Latina women elected to the House from Texas, on the immigration committee.

Climate change reporter David Roberts has written that Secretary Kerry’s coalition, dubbed World War Zero, represents “a very different theory of political change” than the Sunrise Movement and its leader, Prakash. The division “falls largely along generational lines,” Roberts said, and “there’s no reason to choose between them. The campaigns can proceed in parallel and serve complementary goals.”

By uniting, Biden and Sanders are attempting to bridge the gap between those climate advocacy groups. Prakash is also on the climate change task force along with Kerry and AOC.

Prakash, who endorsed Sanders and opposed Biden’s candidacy early on in the Democratic Party, published a Medium post Wednesday explaining why she decided to accept the position.

She wrote: “I’m humbled that Bernie has endorsed me to carry on the fight for our agenda as a part of this task force. He’s fought to give our movement, and young people, a seat at the table, and I will accept it...Our nomination on this task force shows Joe Biden and his campaign are beginning to take seriously that power and the significance of young people within the party if we want to defeat Trump this November.” Prakash was one of eight young progressive leaders who sent a petition of policy demands to the Biden campaign in early April, shortly after Sanders officially endorsed him.

Young people are “poised to play a critical role deciding the next President,” they wrote at the time, adding “it is clear that [Biden was] unable to win the votes of the vast majority of voters under 45” during the primary. Sanders beat Biden with young voters by large margins in several states.

The Biden campaign listened, as Prakash now has a seat at the table. Not everyone is as open to the idea of joining forces—AOC has already faced some criticism online for being a part of the group, though many are quick to note that appears to be a small minority of Democratic voters. She explained her decision to join in a series of tweets:

In explaining her own decision to join, acknowledging some progressives’ concern, Prakash said “the stakes of this election are crystal clear to me. When we say we have 10 years to completely transform our society and economy to stop climate change, we mean it.”

“We cannot afford another four years of Donald Trump pushing us backward,” Prakash wrote, adding “and I believe in our movement’s ability to begin winning a Green New Deal under a President Biden.”